Fast. Verb. 1: to abstain from food. 2: to eat sparingly or abstain from some foods.*

Have you ever fasted from food? I have to be honest and say that I haven’t. I’m one of those people who eats breakfast as soon as I wake up, revives with a well-rounded lunch, and most nights enjoys a home-cooked dinner with my family. The idea of forgetting to eat a meal, much less intentionally not eating a meal, seems a little reckless to me. So how do people like me honor the biblical idea of fasting?

Our lesson contains three very different passages about fasting. In Mark, John’s disciples and some Pharisees are fasting, but Jesus’s disciples aren’t. Jesus says that there is no reason to fast while he is with them. They are working hard in their ministry, and they need sustenance. It also seems like Jesus wants them to enjoy food; he calls himself the “bridegroom,” indicating a festive atmosphere.

In Matthew, Jesus addresses fasting for show. Some people use this spiritual practice to make themselves look holier, more pious, more religious. Jesus insists that isn’t the point of fasting. The practice of abstaining from food is between a person and God, for the purpose of focusing on devotion to the Lord.

In Acts, fasting has a specific purpose. It’s not about self-deprivation but about removing distractions during worship. Jesus the bridegroom has ascended to heaven, so the “prophets and teachers” in the Antioch church are fasting in order to focus on the serious matter at hand: commissioning disciples for ministry. The Holy Spirit indicates Saul (Paul) and Barnabas, and the others pray and lay hands on them.

From these three passages, we can learn a few truths about the purpose of fasting. First, there are times to fast and times to enjoy food. Second, spiritual practices like fasting aren’t for show; they are acts of worship that communicate a person’s devotion to God. And third, fasting is appropriate when it helps us focus on specific tasks or goals in our service to the Lord.

The choice to fast is personal and spiritual. It may not be for everyone. But there are many ways to show our devotion to God and to remove distractions in our ministries. May we find the ones that work best for us.

*Source: “Fast,” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fast.

Discussion

• Have you ever fasted from food? If so, what was your goal, and did fasting help you accomplish that goal?
• What do you think is the point of abstaining from food in order to serve God better?
• Are there other ways to fast besides avoiding food? How can these help us grow closer to God?
• What other spiritual practices remove distractions and help you connect to God?
• In this season of Lent, what can you fast from?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University (BA in English, 2000), has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theatre productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she always has one book going and several more waiting to be read!

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